The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of APpeals yesterday affirmed the right of a Fairfax County high school student newspaper to publish an article on birth control even though the article's contents conflicted with school rules.
The court, in a 2-to-1 decision, upheld a ruling made last February by U.S. District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan in Alexandria. Bryan said at the time that ". . . The newspaper is not in reality a part of the curriculum of the school and . . . is entitled to First Amendment protection."
Parts of the article, "Sexually Active Students Fail to Use Contraception," were censored by Hayfield High School principal Doris Torrice because school regulations prohibit the teaching of contraception.
The student editors chose not to publish the article rather than print it without referrint to birth control.
The county school board and Supt. S. John Davis supported Torrice's decision, saying that to allow students to print the article would override the school board's authority to control school activities. The school board also argued that the student paper was not a public forum.
But the Fourth Circuit majority rejected the school board's arguments and accepted Bryan's opinion that Hayfield's newspaper "The Farm News," "was conceived, established and operated as a conduit for student expression on a wide variety of topics. It falls clearly within the parameters of the First Amendment."
Judge Donald S. Russell, however, disagreed with Judges Harrison L. Winter and John D. Butzner Jr. in the court's opinion yesterday.
In his dissent, Russell said: "A school administration certainly has a legitimate concern in eliminating from its curriculum material which may reasonably be considered conductive to immorality and not appropriate to proper academic education; by the same token it would seem equally clear it would not be required to wink at the same columns of a school paper, sponsored and largely financed by it."
Both Davis and school board attorney Thomas J. Cawlery said they could not comment on the decision yesterday because they had not seen it.
A statement issued by the Student Press Law Center, which helped represent the students, said the decision "will go far toward reaffirming the principle that high school students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates."